Friday, September 30th 2022   |

A question of jurisdiction


It wasn’t a great place to die in. Naked board walls – in the corner, a wood stove – straw, not rugs, on the floor and a bed that was no more than a pile of rags. If you gotta go, you’d certainly choose a finer departure point.

And Rivka, a loving daughter, was convinced that the old lady in the bed – her mother – was ready for her final journey. Her head was full of memories. Touching memories of joy and care and tenderness that the old lady in the bed had created. Well, they would live immortally. And they would laugh again together in the afterlife. Certainly, they had both earned that with their mutual devotion.

But her thoughts were interrupted by a blinding light. As the glare faded, a human-like figure stood in the center of the room. No mistaking him. It was the evil one, Satan, the adv ersary. The old lady struggled to sit up in her pile of rags. Rivka instinctively stepped back.

“Ladies, ladies, relax. I have come to help you. My reputation on earth is undeserved – blackened by tale-tellers. How ‘bout a deal? That pile of bones in the corner recovers in a week and you, young one, lead a long and happy life. Tell you what, I’ll throw in a bonus. You are allowed to marry Yitzhak, the butcher’s son. (The wily one knew her desire for Yitzhak.) Satan stopped.

“And,” said Rivka, “what then?”

“Oh, the traditional deal,” nonchalantly said the fallen angel. “I must have my traditional compensation. The usual. Your soul is mine for eternity plus a day.”

For the moment the earth stopped spinning. Time stood still because upstairs, the heavenly court was in progress. All were in abeyance. For how could reality continue until the verdict was in?

One of the thirty-six Tzadiks that patrol G-d’s creation had brought the case of Rivka and her mother to Michael, the Supreme Magistrate. “The fallen one (that’s what they called him up there) has intervened, nay he has frustrated and interfered with the Angel of Death, Moloch Hamoves (MH). The mother was scheduled to come to us next week. Look, here is exhibit A.” And sure enough, there on page 8 was the notation: Miriam Sobel deceased June 8, 2012. And here’s Rivka, the daughter, deceased many years later.

Satan had clearly violated the angelic charter as well as the prerogatives of the Moloch Hamoves – all to capture the soul of a daughter who deserved bliss, not eternal punishment. True, he had lengthened the life of a good woman; a mother in Israel, but as the Tzadik testified, he had violated his charter. He had not merely stepped over an invisible line – he had knocked down a brick wall.

“That may be,” Satan shouted as he strode into the courtroom, “but for once I show a little heart by prolonging a life and you’re all over me like sparkle on the Milky Way. Not fair!”

The MH, as his friends called him, who really was a fair minded angel when you got to know him, shouted back in anger. “We all know your reputation for trying to grab the sweetest peaches. That Rivka, she is a ruby amongst stones as the psalms put it, though naive, extremely naive. So, in exchange for ten more years for the decrepit mama, you get this peach forever. Truly, a bargain made in hell.”

That’s when Michael the magistrate intervened. “Tell you what, leave Rivka and her mother out of it. Our Master has built amazing recuperative powers into the human body. Consider Methuselah. Leave Rivka and her mother to the natural order of things. And you, most hateful of things, I dare not call you an angel – though formally I guess you qualify – stay out of their lives. But I give you license to observe the behavior of Yitzhak the butcher, who is well known for a heavy thumb on the scales and the occasional substitute of horse meat for prime beef. And if he continues, the standard rules apply – though we would hope for his reformation under the guidance of such a shining light as Rivka. But in no case are you to interfere in matters of longevity.”

“Right,” chimed in Moloch Hamoves.

“OK, OK, said the frustrated thing who once was an angel. “But I can practice my wiles on Yitzhak.”

“Sure,” said Michael the Archangel. “I put my faith in Rivka’s influence.”

And so it was that one month later as Rivka visited her betrothed’s shop for a celebratory ribeye steak for Mama’s recovery, she waved an admonishing finger as Yitzhak weighed the entree.

He looked down shame-faced. “It’s just a habit,” he said. He gave it up. And he gave her a discount, too.


Share Button